Social institutions occupy leading position in the social life of people, such as family, religion, the institution of education and healthcare, with help of institutions people organize their relationships with others. That is why sociology as science and different sociological theories study and evaluate these institutions and their role of the life of society.
Religion is one of the most important and influential institution in the societal life. Religion can be characterized as a complex multi-level social institution, specificity, and the meaning of its existence is determined by society’s need for the sacred. As was noted by Emile Durkheim, the basis of religion are the beliefs and actions related to the phenomenon of spiritual, sacred. Sacred are those aspects of social reality, which are separated from the sphere of the ordinary and are forbidden, and the worldly (profane) are those aspects of social reality, which are routine and casual in nature. Thus, the sacred is something extraordinary, mysterious, awe-inspiring, and even potentially dangerous – it goes beyond the usual and ordinary. But also the same object or type of behavior can be perceived both as profane or sacred: it all depends on estimates of people (such as unleavened bread, if you look at it as a bread only, as a worldly thing, but it becomes sacred for the Orthodox when is consecrated in the Liturgy). Since the sacred is viewed with reverence and awe, it can be approached only through the ritual, social action, the prescribed rules of conduct in the presence of the sacred. In their religious behavior people form the social world of values and rules that guide the thoughts, feelings and actions in the same way as in other spheres of life.
The starting point of the objective sociological analysis of religion should be its understanding as social and cultural institution. This approach to the study of religion, which combines the features of the cultural system, that is defines the scope of values, symbols and values related to fundamental aspects of human existence, and yet functioning in society as an independent social institution (social subsystem) in close connection with other social institutions, enables the maximum integrity and objectivity to identify and analyze the unique role of religion in human history and in the modern society.
The task of sociology is study of religion as a social phenomenon, especially the functioning of religion in society, structure and elements of the religious complex, the typology of religious organizations, public funktsiyreligii, contemporary religious situationand trends of modern religions, sociological theories of religion.
Available today empirical material accumulated in the sociological study of religion for centuries of its existence, suggests as the most significant features of religion is connection between religious experience and practice with “marginal, final conditions of human existence”, which usually include such fundamental concepts as good and evil, birth and death of a person, the meaning of his sojourn on earth, people suffering and experiences, and other dramatic moments. Sociologists believe that the emergence and existence of religion in all societies without exception is explained by the desire of people not only to find the answers to the fundamental problems of individual person existence, but at the same to time create awareness of feelings of all believers so that they have gained confidence and found moral support and solace in religious activities.
A characteristic feature of religious behaviors and actions that sharply distinguishes them from the normative patterns of behavior in other spheres of human activity, is the prevalence of these emotional-affective aspects. This gives grounds to attribute”religious act” to the type of illogical, irrational social action, which is highly correlatedwith emotional-sensual, unconscious sphere of the human psyche. However, the problem of the relationship of rational and irrational aspects of human activity in the sociological and philosophical writings are often interpreted one-sidedly – sharpened by contrasting two polar types – science and religion.
Bellah, Robert O’Neill, an American sociologist and professor of sociology, studied religion from the standpoint of sociology, and according to R. Bell religion “is a symbolic model, which forms the human experience – both cognitive and emotional… what to do and what to think; when denying other ways of solving problems – that is the sphere of religion. ” (Bellah 1970)
R. Bell notes such a substantial part of religion as its request to the most common problems of human existence: it is not based on a specific sensory experience of the individual, and includes a generalized, symbolic characteristics of being. So, like any other value system, religion has a generalized, reflective meaning. This feature of the religious ideas and symbols makes them of special importance and give power over people, promoting the integration and consolidation of society. Thus, we can conclude that the religious experience and religious symbolism is inherent to human outlook and consciousness.